Mark DERY
ESCAPE VELOCITY
Cyberculture at the End of the Century
Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1996
"Escape Velocity is the speed at which a body - a spacecraft, for instance - overcomes the gravitational pull of another body, such as the Earth."

The title of this paper and the message it represents remain relevant even today, 12 years after its 1996 publication and following the realisation of many of the books key ideas and theme in one way or another.

The major concerns set out in the introductory chapter of Escape Velocity are valid and much discussed “hypotheticals” relating to the impact of computer and internet technology on society. Dery sketches stories of societies overwhelmed by information, detached from certain aspects of material life due to the ephemerality of work and the intangible nature of this work's products, the disembodiment of the self (i.e. more and more relationships are formed by computer mediated communication rather than through traditional face to face interaction) as well as exploring the mechanization of sex and the sexualisation of the machine.

To provide a framework for his approach, the author runs through key steps of the evolution of computer and network technologies which also gives proof that this progress was tightly linked to social and political changes. Dery uses these theories as a solid foundation to cleanly arrive at the concept of SST - "Taking it as given, technology inextricably woven into the warp and woof of our lives...".

He also understands that many of the somewhat bizarre and extreme theories and concepts are a result of the fact that society finds it difficult to keep up with the speed and quality changes of our world:

"We are moving, at a dizzying speed, from a reassuringly solid age of hardware into a disconcertingly wraithlike age of software, in which circuitry too small to see and code too complex to comprehend controls more and more of the world around us."

For the first couple of readings, I did not understand the reason why the author spent such effort on the millennium and end of world stories, albeit by great sci-fi examples. However I finally understood the logical relationship between the brief conclusion (of this introduction) and the extended, but also mystical and rather delirious part of the chapter. Dery states that we tend to project our future via our imagination and artwork, then later we follow it up through research, development and innovation to fulfil a destiny - not necessarily pre-written, unless done so by our own selves. For example, think about Jules Verne's work and all the innovations we have realised decades after his death, such as space travel, submarines, etc.

My take on Dery's conclusion is that we are responsible for the dreams we dream and that we shape our future with our own imagination. The consequence is that we must think positive and optimistic thoughts in order to build a positive, liveable future, because as Donna Haraway states as cited by Dery, "escape velocity is a deadly fantasy".